Afghan women fear return to dark days amid Taliban sweep

It was early night and Zahra, her mom and three sisters had been on their method to dinner at one other sister’s house after they noticed individuals operating and heard gunshots on the road.

“The Taliban are here!” individuals screamed.

In just some minutes, every part modified for the 26-year-old resident of Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest metropolis.

Zahra grew up in a principally Taliban-free Afghanistan, the place women dared to dream of careers and ladies obtained an schooling. For the previous 5 years, she has been working with native nonprofit organizations to increase consciousness for women and press for gender equality.

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Zarmina Kakar a women’s rights activist cry throughout an interview in Kabul, Afghanistan. Kakar was a 12 months previous when the Taliban entered Kabul the primary time in 1996. (AP Photo)

Her goals and ambitions got here crashing down Thursday night because the Taliban swept into town, planting their white flags emblazoned with an Islamic proclamation of religion in a central sq. as individuals on bikes and in automobiles rushed to their houses.

Like most different residents, Zahra, her dad and mom and 5 siblings at the moment are hunkering indoors, too scared to exit and anxious in regards to the future. The Associated Press selected not to establish her by her full identify to keep away from making her a goal.

“I am in big shock,” stated Zahra, a round-faced, soft-spoken younger lady. “How can it be possible for me as a woman who has worked so hard and tried to learn and advance, to now have to hide myself and stay at home?”

Amid a lightning offensive over the previous a number of days, the Taliban now management greater than two-thirds of the nation, simply two weeks earlier than the U.S. plans to withdraw its final troops. And they’re slowly closing in on the capital, Kabul.

The U.N. refugee company says practically 2,50,000 Afghans have fled their houses because the finish of May amid fears the Taliban would re-impose their strict and ruthless interpretation of Islam, all however eliminating women’s rights. Eighty p.c of these displaced are women and kids.

Also See: Taliban tighten grip on Afghanistan as all eyes turn to capital Kabul, govt says it ‘stands firm’

The fundamentalist group dominated the nation for 5 years till the 2001 US-led invasion. During that point, it forbade ladies an schooling and women the best to work, and refused even to allow them to journey exterior their houses with no male family member to accompany them. The Taliban additionally carried out public executions, chopped off the palms of thieves and stoned women accused of adultery.

There have been no confirmed experiences of such excessive measures in areas the Taliban fighters just lately seized. But militants had been reported to have taken over some homes and set hearth to not less than one faculty.

At a park in Kabul, remodeled since final week right into a shelter for the displaced, households instructed the AP on Friday that ladies driving house in a motorized rickshaw within the northern Takhar province had been stopped and lashed for carrying “revealing sandals.”

A schoolteacher from the province stated nobody was allowed to exit to the market with no male escort. Some 3,000 households primarily from northern provinces just lately taken over by the Taliban now dwell in tents contained in the park, some on the sidewalks.

Zahra stopped going to the workplace a couple of month in the past because the militants approached Herat, and she or he labored remotely from house. But on Thursday, Taliban fighters broke by town’s defensive traces, and she or he has been unable to work since.

Her eyes welled up with tears as she thought-about the chance that she will be unable to return to work; that her 12-year-old sister will probably be unable to proceed going to faculty (“She loves learning”); that her older brother will be unable play soccer; or that she received’t have the ability to freely play the guitar once more. The instrument held on a wall behind her as she spoke.

She listed a few of the achievements made by women prior to now 20 years because the Taliban’s ouster — incremental however significant beneficial properties in what remains to be a deeply conservative, male-dominated society: Girls at the moment are in class, and women are in Parliament, authorities and enterprise.

Marianne O’Grady, Kabul-based deputy nation director for CARE International, stated the strides made by women over the previous 20 years have been dramatic, significantly in city areas, including she can’t see issues going again to the best way they had been, even with a Taliban takeover.

“You can’t uneducate millions of people,” she stated. If women “are back behind walls and not able to go out as much, at least they can now educate their cousins and their neighbors and their own children in ways that couldn’t happen 25 years ago.”

Still, a way of dread seems to be omnipresent, significantly amongst women, as Taliban forces take extra territory every day.

“I feel we are like a bird who makes a nest for a living and spends all the time building it, but then suddenly and helplessly watches others destroy it,” stated Zarmina Kakar, a 26-year-old women’s rights activist in Kabul.

Kakar was a 12 months previous when the Taliban entered Kabul the primary time in 1996, and she or he recalled a time when her mom took her out to purchase her ice cream, again when the Taliban dominated. Her mom was whipped by a Taliban fighter for revealing her face for a few minutes.

“Today again, I feel that if Taliban come to power, we will return back to the same dark days,” she stated.

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